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[links] Link salad afternoon update - Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2007-12-26 15:05
Subject: [links] Link salad afternoon update
Security: Public
Location:Nuevo Rancho Lake
Mood:bemused
Music:not much
Tags:books, links, writing
Anent the ongoing discussion about a Lifetime Achievement Hugo Award, SF Awards Watch is running an informal poll about potential recipients

A comparison of religious experience and fandom — In which I am quoted.

Fantasy author scores Simon & Schuster deal for self-published book by creating a fake publicist — Wow. Talk about bad messaging to aspiring writers. At least that's how it seems to me. What do you think of this?
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Patrick Nielsen Hayden
User: pnh
Date: 2007-12-27 03:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't understand what you mean by "bad messaging to aspiring writers". The entertainment industry changes constantly. When deciding whether to take an unusual opportunity, exactly how much is anyone obliged to consider what "message" it imaginably "sends" to "aspiring writers"?

I understand deploring the valorization of jerk behavior. Lie to me and there's a reasonable probability that I won't want to have anything further to do with you, even if you're a brilliant storyteller. I also understand that in the greater scheme of things, if you're a brilliant storyteller it doesn't entirely matter if you're an asshole who tells lies and cons people.

These two uncomfortable truths co-exist--uncomfortably. First, as Auden wrote in "In Memory of W. B. Yeats" -- and then deleted the lines from subsequent editions:
Time, that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent
And forgetful, in a week
Of a beautiful physique--


Worships language, and forgives
All of those who by it live.
Pardons cowardice, deceit;
Lays its honors at their feet.
Second, if you're an asshole in the service of your genuine talent, you're still an asshole. Being talented doesn't make you a good person, nor is it a Get Out Of Jail Free card for treating other people badly.

Third, sometimes the system is broken and corrupt, and a certain amount of rascality is necessary to defeat it.

Fourth, the fact that you've been rejected so far isn't necessarily proof that the system is broken and corrupt.

That's several stages of ambivalence, none of which have anything to do with "messaging to aspiring writers." We have little responsibility to "aspiring writers." We have enough on our plates sorting out our own ethical and aesthetic dilemmas. The needs of "aspiring writers" belong far down the hierarchy of importance, well behind those of "our colleagues" and "our readers".
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J.K.Richárd
User: neutronjockey
Date: 2007-12-27 06:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Patrick pretty much summed up everything I wanted to add here. Added some poetry, took out the circumlocutious double-speak and purple prose that I'm prone to write --- took out all my ellipse abuse ... and well... made me sound brilliant.

In truth, that was far deeper than any opinion I had on that particular link-salad snippet.

This: The needs of "aspiring writers" belong far down the hierarchy of importance, well behind those of "our colleagues" and "our readers". <--- that's made of awesome!

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Shalanna
User: shalanna
Date: 2007-12-28 03:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm hoping that I'm misreading this, and that in context it is less nasty than it seems . . . because it is worrisome if industry people say in general that "the needs of aspiring writers belong far down the hierarchy . . . well behind those of our colleagues and our readers." If this means merely that their first responsibility is to serve the needs of readers and colleagues, and that they don't have to worry about what those who are not part of the industry may think, then that's fine. They shouldn't have to worry about what the unpublished types might think about what they do, and they don't owe us anything except the respect they'd accord to any fellow human being. (They're not in the business of setting examples.) But if it's saying that aspiring writers are such worthless jerks that their needs belong way down below the needs of the Anointed Elect, then it's worrisome. After all, some of us are also readers, and we're fellow human beings (mostly.) It would surprise me to hear that from this quarter, frankly. But perhaps I'm wrong. Why is this quotation "awesome"?

However, I don't quite understand what's being said, even taken in the context of "we dislike this idiot who lied about having a publicist and pretended to be his own publicist." I also don't understand the part about not being able to hire a publicist (assuming the author had the cash to do so). I know several publicists who need the work and aren't tough to find, so I can't see how this person "couldn't get a publicist." (Just hire somebody . . . how tough is that, if you have the cash?) Maybe this is a consequence of poor reading comprehension on my part, but I don't think so, because I generally have somewhat good reading comprehension.

It would be nice if someone could explain.
Maybe it's just me.
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J.K.Richárd
User: neutronjockey
Date: 2007-12-28 05:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I will not (dare) attempt to speak on pnh's behalf.
I will however, share with you what I read here and why I like it so much.

I'm hoping that I'm misreading this, and that in context it is less nasty than it seems . . . because it is worrisome if industry people say in general that "the needs of aspiring writers belong far down the hierarchy . . .

Publishing is about making books for the End User(EU); the EU being the reader. Therefore as the end consumer of this product it is the expectations and trends of the EU that "we" cater to.
Between the producer (writer) and the EU are men and women that provide the valuable trades and services of production (including acquisition). There are also secondary and tertiary service providers (agents, freelancers, publicists etc). I believe that Mr. pnh was referring to the whole of this group with a broad stroke in reference to "colleagues." I am personally assuming (with some surety) that Mr. pnh includes professional writers with sustained superior performance in this list of colleagues.

You are more than welcome than to go from producer to EU via self-publishing however, the lack of consistent quality that the "traditional" publishing system provides is terribly evident in today's vanity and POD market.

That leaves us with those that aspire to be. What are the "needs" of the aspiring writer? Does an aspiring writer "need" to be published.
The quick answer is no.
There is no "need" to be published. There are only wants and desires to be published. Which begs to ask the question of: what is the need behind the need to be published? Attention? Self-gratification? Percieved fame, glory and riches?

Pulling the "fellow human being" card is taudry. This is a business of producing a quality end product that will sale. The ugly truth is that aspiring writers, with no history of sales, performance and publications are a liability.

This snippet from pnh's statement is awesome because (again, how I read into this, maybe not what pnh intended) it reflects some of my own personal encounters with "aspiring writers" as both a convention attendee and as a personal assistant sitting on the other side of the panel. My observations are that the majority of "aspiring writers" are self-absorbed attention seekers who want a pat on the back and a free ride for being a jolly bloke.

Disagree? Then why do writers' conventions and conferences exist if there is no need to be published. It is all about fulfilling a personal desire... a personal desire that is about self and self alone. The ego boost that these conferences provide are the "industry's" response to the "needs" of the aspiring writer. An entire tertiary marketing industry built around self-importance. Imagine that.

Most "aspiring writers" do not have the time, determination or willingness to sacrifice in order to learn the trade of authorship. Most "aspiring writers" will give up. Why should any industry professional or paraprofessional waste precious time and energy into another's aspirations; and into something that will never come into fruition? Waste time on an aspiring writer that has a few chapters and a synops and lacking a P&L from a reputable house? They shouldn't. Their focus is on the EU, as it should be.

Don't get me wrong, every editor, agent and publisher out there wants to encounter the next book that puts them on the edge of the chair and has them asking for more. Those gems are far and few between...and even a few of those gems don't make it past the board.

So if you want the attention and praise of a "colleague" do the time, put your ass in the chair and quit aspiring and just write damn good (& marketable) fiction.
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Patrick Nielsen Hayden
User: pnh
Date: 2007-12-28 14:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"I'm hoping that I'm misreading this, and that in context it is less nasty than it seems . . . because it is worrisome if industry people say in general that "the needs of aspiring writers belong far down the hierarchy . . . well behind those of our colleagues and our readers." If this means merely that their first responsibility is to serve the needs of readers and colleagues, and that they don't have to worry about what those who are not part of the industry may think, then that's fine. They shouldn't have to worry about what the unpublished types might think about what they do, and they don't owe us anything except the respect they'd accord to any fellow human being. (They're not in the business of setting examples.) But if it's saying that aspiring writers are such worthless jerks that their needs belong way down below the needs of the Anointed Elect, then it's worrisome."

Since the only person who said anything about "worthless jerks" or an "Anointed Elect" is you, I'm not sure why I should have to defend what I actually wrote. Why are you imagining colorful things that I didn't actually say, and then professing to be worried about them? It seems to me you could just as easily be imagining that I think aspiring writers should be fed to the god Moloch, or festooned with flowers, or elected to the Nebraska legislature.

In fact, just as you initially guessed, I meant that our first responsibility is to serve our readers and treat our colleagues decently. I'll go even further and say that aspiring writers are a subset of "colleague." But I think it's impractical to subject every business decision to a "what will aspiring writers think?" test.

"It would be nice if someone could explain."

From here it looks like lots of people are explaining lots of things. Perhaps you could explain why it's "nasty" for me to write what I did, but not "nasty" for you to suggest that I actually meant that some people are "worthless jerks"? I think it would be "nice if someone could explain" this. The fact that you profess to be confused doesn't give you a license to purvey falsehoods.
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Shalanna: lennon-war-poster
User: shalanna
Date: 2007-12-28 17:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:lennon-war-poster
"Purveyor of lies?" Is that not pretty harsh, when I don't see a lie being told in the first place by *either* of us? Why not just respond with something like, "Yes, I meant that our first responsibility is to serve our readers"? That's all I was asking. I only took exception to a remark that sounded pretty dismissive. Perhaps I'm too sensitive, but that's because I hear so much dismissive talk about how aspiring writers "are," similar to what neutronjockey says in the previous comment about "self-absorbed attention seekers who want a pat on the back and a free ride for being a jolly bloke." I am relieved to find that your comment was not intended in that vein.

>>Perhaps you could explain why it's "nasty" for me to write what I did, but not "nasty" for you to suggest that I actually meant that some people are "worthless jerks"? I think it would be "nice if someone could explain" this. <<

All right, I will. This kind of hostility is one reason that I took that quotation the "wrong" way the first time I read it; there seems to be so much anger in this, when all I did was say that something being talked about could be seen as offensive to an entire group of people and illustrate the way I "heard" it being said. I asked for a clarification in what I thought was a nice way. I was hoping that you meant it the first way, but I thought it was reasonable to point out that it could be taken the second way (and that the second way is certainly the way it sounds when people start quoting it, which they have.) I figured you might like to let people know that it was an inadvertent slight. People call me on phrasings like that all the time and ask me to remove ambiguity, and I generally can see why they objected. I tried to ask in a nice way for an explanation of why this sounded so confrontational. However, maybe I'm too sensitive to things like this. I put all kinds of qualifiers around the question and tried NOT to sound nasty, but see, you took it exactly that way *because* of the qualifiers. There seems to be such a gulf between us.

What we do agree on is that whatever the author in question did to get some attention for his book doesn't really matter as long as he has a great platform and a readable book that will interest buyers. You're right about how silly it is for people to complain that he Skipped A Step. But you're wrong to assume that just because I was hurt or offended by the way I interpreted something you typed, I must be out to start a fight.
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beth_bernobich
User: beth_bernobich
Date: 2007-12-29 15:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
When you use phrases such as "Anointed Elect" and "worthless jerks," yes, you do sound as though you're trying to start a fight.
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The Green Knight: Writing
User: green_knight
Date: 2007-12-28 14:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Writing
When deciding whether to take an unusual opportunity, exactly how much is anyone obliged to consider what "message" it imaginably "sends" to "aspiring writers"?

If you're the person who will be inundated by more aspiring writers trying to do the same thing or something very similiar, I would think *very very carefully* about what message I am sending. Imagine saying innocently 'it came with a bar of chocolate, so I picked it out of the slushpile and started reading' - and now imagine what your slushpile will look like next week....

We have little responsibility to "aspiring writers."

Maybe not - but today's aspiring writers, at least the best of them, are hopefully tomorrow's bestselling authors, so I would have thought there's a certain self-interest in not discouraging the lot.

the fact that you've been rejected so far isn't necessarily proof that the system is broken and corrupt.

I'll support that statement fully. I'm in that unenviable place right now where nobody loves my writing enough (yet) to buy it, and if you made me dictator over all the world I'd change a few things about the system - but the more I learn about the industry, the less I am willing to join into the 'it's so unfair' chorus.

On balance, though, I prefer a world where hard work and persistence count more than publicity stunts.


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Patrick Nielsen Hayden
User: pnh
Date: 2007-12-28 14:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"If you're the person who will be inundated by more aspiring writers trying to do the same thing or something very similiar, I would think *very very carefully* about what message I am sending.

Well, arguably, I am that person. Or one of those people.

"Today's aspiring writers, at least the best of them, are hopefully tomorrow's bestselling authors, so I would have thought there's a certain self-interest in not discouraging the lot."

I'll put my own record as an editor and teacher up against anyone else's in this conversation. Count the first novels I've published and the workshops I've taught. I don't need to be lectured about the value of helping talented unpublished writers along.

But if there's a message I'm actually concerned about sending to "aspiring writers", it's that this isn't your sixth grade homeroom, the things that look like a "system" are actually just a set of contingent improvisations that might well change next week, and that while we all "prefer a world where hard work and persistence count more than publicity stunts", the plain fact is that readers looking for something to entertain them don't much care at all. The woman at an airport bookstall, the guy browsing the Barnes and Noble at Union Square--neither of them is thinking to themselves "I want to read an author who got published due to virtuous hard work and persistence." They're thinking "What looks interesting?" Full stop.
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The Green Knight: Sandwolf
User: green_knight
Date: 2007-12-28 15:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Sandwolf
Well, arguably, I am that person. Or one of those people.

Indeed. And you have a great track record not just in helping new writers, but in keeping an open mind - and that is one of the things that gives me confidence in 'the system.'

I don't need to be lectured about the value of helping talented unpublished writers along.

Wasn't my intention, sorry if I came across like that. I was speaking more from a general point of view.


The woman at an airport bookstall, the guy browsing the Barnes and Noble at Union Square--neither of them is thinking to themselves "I want to read an author who got published due to virtuous hard work and persistence." They're thinking "What looks interesting?" Full stop.

It's the same dilemma every merchant has - does it _matter_ how you get your supplies or your suppliers? In this particular case, I don't see the note as very much different from a query letter - something to waken interest, and the rest of the running was done by the publisher - but I can see pitfalls, and I would hope that we're not seeing a new trend. truying to game 'the system' is, as I see it, a waste of everybody's time.
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Rose Fox
User: rosefox
Date: 2007-12-28 20:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Once again we're back to there being a "system" with "rules" that people try to "game".

I don't think this system exists, or not the way you seem to think it does. If you "win", then you have played by the rules, by definition. If someone "wins" in a way that you think bends or goes outside the "rules", then I would suggest that your understanding of the "rules" is incorrect.

Or we could just choose some other metaphor for the publishing industry, because I think the "system" metaphor really fits it very poorly.

(And a "new trend"? People trying to get ahead by any means possible is quite literally the oldest trend in the world. It arguably is the original system, and altruism and moral codes and the like could quite plausibly be seen as attempts to get around its rules! Let's have a little perspective here.)
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The Green Knight: Valendon
User: green_knight
Date: 2007-12-29 22:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Valendon
Maybe we have different concepts of what 'a system' is. I'm a geographer, and for me, anything complex that is not provably chaotic (which 'publishing' is not) counts as 'a system'. Landscapes, for instance. Or traffic patterns, or, well, *anything*. No complex system has easily definable rules, and something that depends on the individual decisions of people (slushreaders, editors, agents etc) is impossible to model mathematically. I'm used to such systems, and I don't think it's a bad term.

Define 'winning', anyway - book contract? Repeat contract? Sell-through rate? Increasing advances? Awards won? There must be ten or twenty measurements for 'success' and in order to _feel_ successful, every individual will come up with a different list of what _they_ would declare a success.

And yes, people will queuejump or at least try to with more or less successful results, and the results will be more or less uncomfortable for everyone else, and it's not my business anyway, but I would prefer talented young writers to think 'how can I become a better writer' rather than 'how can I game the system' because I happen to believe that in the end, focussing on the means of garnering attention *will* harm all of us, as writers, readers, or people otherwise connected with publishing.

And I don't think that 'free for all' is the original 'rule' of anything; evolutionary biology suggests that 'tit for tat; is more successful in the long run.
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